Prince called Ingrid Chavez the “Spirit Child.” She was his muse and collaborator at Paisley Park while he made his conceptual 10th album, Lovesexy, and she her poetry-driven LP May 19, 1992. The mutual inspiration is most clearly heard on songs like Prince’s sensual “I Wish U Heaven” and its sister work, Chavez’s “Heaven Must Be Near.” Prince was so rapt by Chavez’s poetry that he halted all progress on The Black Album while they were together for an intense three-month period during a bitter Minneapolis winter. Later, Prince cast Chavez as his love interest in his final film, 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, which was also the last time she appeared on screen.
At the time she met Prince, Chavez was a 22-year-old single mother raising her son in an apartment, trying to get her music career off the ground. Prince, Chavez tells Rolling Stone, inspired her to put her poetry to music, which led to her writing Madonna’s sultry hit “Justify My Love” with Lenny Kravitz. We spoke to Chavez about her collaborations with the late legend.
What do you think of when you listen to Lovesexy today?
I think of us just hanging out, playing pool with him and his dad in Paisley Park. Prince loved pool. Lovesexy is like a snapshot of our time together. It was created in 1988 with the poetry record. It was a period of creativity for both of us, and we were inspired by each other. Stepping into his world was like a fairy tale. Being exposed to his creativity and spiritual epiphanies was unreal. When I met Prince, he was unshaven, wore casual clothes. It was like we ran into each other on the playground. It was magical. He seemed so relaxed in that period.
I read that you first met Prince at a bar in Minneapolis.
Yes. It was December in Minneapolis, so it was cold, and my friends dragged me out. I wasn’t going to go to the bar. [Prince] strolled in and he kept looking at me, so I passed him a note at the bar and we got talking. I introduced myself as Gertrude and he said he was Dexter [laughs]. And that’s who we were to each other forever.
When did Gertrude and Dexter start working together?
He asked me if I wanted to go for a ride to Paisley Park that night, so we went. That was it. I remember he left me alone in a room for quite some time. I had a notebook on me, so I did some writing. Later, I heard accounts of that evening that he’d gotten on the phone with producers and said, “I’ve met an angel,” and stopped work on The Black Album.
How quickly after that night did you start writing poetry for Prince? Did you have any hesitations?
Prince told me to write 21 poems and we would make a poetry album, so I worked endlessly, 24/7, for the next six weeks before bringing them to the studio. I wasn’t nervous to show him my work. Prince had this ability to see creative potential in a person before they saw it in themselves. He made me feel better as a writer than I felt about myself.
“Prince had this ability to see creative potential in a person before they saw it in themselves.”
And you recorded the whole poetry album in one take at Paisley Park. Did you show Prince the poems before you recorded?
No, Prince was hearing my poems for the first time as he played on the synthesizer in the studio. I would say a title like “Heaven Must Be Near,” and he improvised as I was reading. It was a moment captured in time. We did the whole thing in one straight recording. I love the part at the end where we’re just talking naturally about stuff like getting a bite to eat later. Those were real moments.
Why did you and Prince lose touch after that recording?
Our work just took us in different directions. That was an intense period of time; it was like being in a winter bunker with him for three months. We were just together for that whole season. A year later, I got a call from him, and he said he’d been working on “Heaven.” He said, “It sounds like spring in Paris,” so then we got started again.
What about your writing do you think Prince responded to?
There was an innocence to the writing back then. I loved that he loved my work. It made me want to write more. That was the thing about Prince: He wanted people’s dreams to come true. When I first started working with him, he gave me a new synth when mine was stolen just so I could keep working. He saw the potential in people just because they were his friends. He wanted everyone to experience success.
Can you talk about your decision to leave the music industry?
Well, I left when I had my kids. But it got really ugly when the “Justify My Love” litigation was going on. Prince was very upset that Virgin gave Madonna my song without my permission, and I was told not to say anything. Prince called me one day after hearing it on the radio and said, “Ingrid, what is up with that ‘Justify My Love’ song? That song is you.” No one knew I wrote that song. And at the time, my record hadn’t come out yet and Prince was upset that people were going to think I was copying Madonna when it did. I remember I just didn’t want Prince to be disappointed.
How did your relationship with Prince change when he asked you to be in Graffiti Bridge, when he was directing you as opposed to being more of a collaborator?
Prince was always the same towards me. I felt more uncomfortable with [Graffiti Bridge] because I’m not an actor and had never acted before, but this was like playing a character based on me. I felt very vulnerable, but he was encouraging. With me, he was gentle, sensitive, and maybe most importantly, he never made me feel like I was missing a mark.